Comment and Analysis @nicholaspwright
Arsenal's Danny Welbeck can provide fresh inspiration in attack
Last Updated: 28/02/16 1:28pm
Arsenal's struggles in front of goal have been a glaring issue throughout the season. Could the returning Danny Welbeck be the man to freshen up their misfiring attack? We take a look ahead of his return to Old Trafford on Super Sunday...
A familiar theme emerged from Arsene Wenger's terse press conference at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night. The Arsenal manager had just watched his side's Champions League hopes all but ended by Barcelona, and after lamenting their late defensive lapses, the questioning turned to their profligacy in front of goal.
"The way we finished our chances was a problem today," he said. "In the final third, at the moment, we miss something." The Frenchman highlighted Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's failure to convert an "unbelievable chance" in the first half, but Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud were also guilty of spurning clear opportunities before Lionel Messi took over.
After recent blanks against Hull, Southampton, Chelsea and Stoke, Arsenal have now failed to score in five games out of eight for the first time since early 2009. It is a deeply troubling statistic, but even more worrying for Arsenal is that the lack of cutting edge has been an issue right from the start of the season.
The Gunners have been comfortably outscored by Premier League title rivals Leicester, Tottenham and Manchester City, and they have only netted fewer than 41 goals after 26 games in three of Wenger's 20 campaigns in charge. Arsenal rank third in the Premier League for efforts on goal and chances created, but their shot conversion rate of 14.09 per cent puts them down in 10th.
Top four shot conversion comparison
|Team||Shots on goal (PL rank)||Goals (PL rank)||Shot conversion (PL rank)|
|Leicester||264 (7th)||48 (1st)||18.18% (1st)|
|Tottenham||301 (2nd)||47 (2nd)||15.61% (4th)|
|Arsenal||291 (3rd)||41 (4th)||14.09% (10th)|
|Man City||309 (1st)||48 (1st)||15.53% (6th)|
A deeper look at the statistics throws up even more compelling evidence that finishing has become a chronic issue for Wenger's men. Sixty-four of the 331 chances they have created are defined as clear-cut opportunities by Opta. That's 20 more than any other Premier League side, and only two short of the highest number managed by any club over the whole of last season.
What is a clear-cut chance?
Opta define a clear-cut chance as a situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score, such as a one-on-one or a close-range effort.
The problem, however, is that Arsenal have only managed to convert 26 of those 64 opportunities. So despite being streets ahead of their rivals in terms of creativity, the Gunners rank 19th in the Premier League for clear-cut chance conversion on just 32.5 per cent. Only relegation-threatened Swansea have been more wasteful.
Top four clear-cut chance comparison
|Team||Clear-cut chances created (PL rank)||Clear-cut chance conversion (PL rank)|
|Leicester||44 (2nd)||43.55% (5th)|
|Tottenham||39 (4th)||48.15% (2nd)|
|Arsenal||64 (1st)||32.50% (19th)|
|Man City||40 (3rd)||37.29% (15th)|
Arsenal have consequently averaged just 1.58 goals per game in the Premier League this season, and they will finish the campaign on 60 goals if they continue scoring at the same rate. History suggests that won't be enough, with Manchester United's total of 67 in 1992/93 the lowest for a title-winning side in Premier League history.
Wenger has described finishing as "cyclical", but the issue evidently runs deeper than that. And yet, when the Frenchman was questioned about signing a new striker in January, his response was to talk up the impending return of Danny Welbeck. His comments received a lukewarm reception, but the England forward has certainly provided some encouragement.
Wenger talked about "small steps" when discussing Welbeck's comeback at the end of last month, but the 25-year-old has been hurriedly making up for lost time. He marked his first appearance in 10 months with a dramatic winner against Leicester, and it wouldn't have been surprising to see him start against Barcelona after an eye-catching performance in Arsenal's goalless draw with Hull.
Welbeck was full of energy and intent before his 67th-minute substitution against Steve Bruce's team, and there were flashes of his quality, too. He created two scoring opportunities for his team-mates and forced a stunning save from Hull goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic with one curling effort, and 24 of his 25 passes found a team-mate.
The Gunners are in dire need of fresh impetus in attack as their Premier League campaign gets back underway, and while the likes of Giroud, Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott are suffering from a glaring lack of confidence in front of goal, Welbeck looks hungrier and sharper than ever.
His Premier League scoring record may be a modest 31 goals in 144 appearances, but he showed a ruthless streak with six goals in seven games for England last season, and his pace and work-rate make him well-suited to playing anywhere in the front three. Soccer Saturday pundit Charlie Nicholas is a big admirer, and he's expecting a shake-up in the weeks ahead.
"Giroud is not playing well," the former Arsenal forward told Sky Sports. "His choice of passing has been poor, he's too static, he's not getting in enough scoring positions and if he's not scoring goals then he shouldn't be starting. Welbeck's movement and speed gives more options to Mesut Ozil. It was fantastic to see him come back and score the winner against Leicester after so long out."
As Arsenal prepare for Sunday's crucial clash with Manchester United, an injury to Oxlade-Chamberlain has raised the possibility of Welbeck making his first Premier League start since March at Old Trafford, where he scored Arsenal's winner in last year's FA Cup quarter-final.
Wenger needs an injection of something different in attack to avoid their Premier League campaign heading the same way as the Champions League. A refreshed and reinvigorated Welbeck looks like the right man for the job.
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